Column: You can’t always trust your eyes

by Father Mark Goldasich

Here’s a snippet of a recent conversation between my mom and I.

“What’s that over by the hedges?” asked Mom.

“Oh, it’s just a skull,” I replied, “and there’s a whole bunch of bones down by the steps.”

Now the only time two sane people can have an exchange like this without screaming in terror or running to call 911 is at Halloween. (By the way, the skull and bones were from an elaborate display of spooky things over at the neighbor’s, blown into Mom’s yard by last Sunday’s powerful winds.)

Things are not always what they appear.

Take jack o’lanterns, for example. Pumpkin carving is based on an ancient Irish myth about a character named Stingy Jack. One night he runs into the devil at a local pub, where Jack offers his soul in exchange for a drink. Gleefully, the devil turns himself into a coin to pay the bartender. As soon as he does, Jack snatches the coin and puts it in his pocket, right next to a silver cross. The cross prevents the devil from returning to his original form.

Jack promises to free the devil from this predicament, on the condition that he not bother him for up to ten years (the legends differ on the exact time). Naturally, the devil agrees.

After the specified time, the devil comes to collect Jack’s soul while he is walking down a country lane. Jack agrees to go, but only after convincing the devil to climb a tree and get Jack a juicy apple there. Once he’s up the tree, Jack carves crosses around its trunk, thus trapping the devil once again. This time, in exchange for his freedom, the devil forfeits all claim to Jack’s soul.

When Jack eventually dies and comes to the gates of heaven, he’s refused entrance, based on his life of drinking, stinginess and deceit. So, Jack heads down to hell, seeking admission. The devil, true to his word, says he made a deal with Jack and thus can’t take his soul and let him in. He suggests that Jack head back to earth instead.

Because the road back is so dark, Jack pleads with the devil for something to light his way. He hands him an ember straight from the fires of hell, which Jack places in a carved-out turnip. (Apparently, Jack loved turnips and never went anywhere without one.) Thus, with no place to go, Jack continues to roam the earth to this day. He’s known as “Jack of the Lantern” or simply “Jack o’lantern.” (When Irish immigrants came to America, the turnip in the legend gave way to the plentiful pumpkin.)

No, things are not always what they appear. The simple Halloween decoration of lighted pumpkins can actually teach a valuable lesson: Live differently than Stingy Jack!

A year or so ago, one of the shut-ins of the parish handed me a clipping that outlined how to live a good life: Drink, steal, swear and lie. Reading further, I discovered that things again were not what they first appeared to be. To get into heaven:

• Drink from the “everlasting cup” each day.

• Steal a few moments to help someone who is in worse shape than you.

• Swear, with God’s grace, to be a better person today than you were yesterday.

• Lie down at night and put yourself into the hands of God, thanking him for his care and blessings.

Not living this way? Well, that’s something to really be scared about.

Leave a Reply